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Publisher's Summary

It's the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies - with real players, in a real ballpark, in a real playoff race. That's what baseball analysts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when an independent minor-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, offered them the chance to run its baseball operations according to the most advanced statistics.

We tag along as Lindbergh and Miller apply their number-crunching insights to all aspects of assembling and running a team, following one cardinal rule for judging each innovation they try: It has to work. We meet colorful figures like general manager Theo Fightmaster and boundary-breakers like the first openly gay player in professional baseball. Even José Canseco makes a cameo appearance.

Will their knowledge of numbers help Lindbergh and Miller bring the Stompers a championship, or will they fall on their faces? Will the team have a competitive advantage or is the sport's folk wisdom true after all? Will the players attract the attention of big-league scouts, or are they on a fast track to oblivion?

©2016 Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[F]un, breezy, and moving read." (Jonah Keri, author of Up, Up, and Away)

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  • Story

Narrarators have never watched baseball. Ever!

Any additional comments?

This is a great story about two statheads running a minor league ball club. There's only one small problem. <br/><br/>The two narrators and the audio engineers HAVE NEVER WATCHED A BASEBALL GAME IN THEIR LIVES. <br/><br/>On one occasion, they pronounced Vin Scully as Vin SCOLLY. On another, they pronounced Whitey Herzog as WHITNEY Herzog. They're both in the Hall of Fame.It's a great book and a good performance, but the occasional pronunciation snafus take away from the experience.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Great Book, Bad Performance

This is a very interesting book, I was on the edge of my seat and had to force myself not to look up the final record of the team before finishing the book. (Kinda like reading the last page first!) However, the experience was ruined a bit by the narrators who didn't bother to look up the pronunciation of various names and places. Still, recommended for anyone interested in minor league baseball or sabermetrics.

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  • Robert
  • SAN DIEGO, CA, United States
  • 04-14-17

Not many nuts and bolts of Sabremetrics

Any additional comments?

I thought the book was mildly interesting, and as a very casual Sabremetrician, I really thought there'd be more of the nuts and bolts of that.<br/><br/>They more alluded to it than explained the different things they did - they went through the hassle of getting all the equipment they needed for games and then only in the most general terms did they explain how they used the data.<br/><br/>They were quite candid in the summary of the limitations and the failures they had during the season, and where, frankly, a manager's "gut" fared just as well or better than their data based ideas.<br/><br/>A fun book but if you're a hard core baseball quant, you won't find anything really new here.<br/><br/>If you're interested in a human interest story with baseball as the environment, it's pretty good.<br/>

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Big league ideas on a below minor league level

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work is definitely interesting for more than casual baseball fans. It isn't about the Yankees, Cubs, or Red Sox, and the only mentions of big league teams are short and unrelated to the actual story. Independent baseball leagues usually give players the chance to prove themselves and work their way up to affiliated baseball. This book shows that it can also give unconventional and nontraditional fans the chance to prove that different theories on rosters and lineups can be utilized.

This book almost reads like a fiction title because mostly all of the names are unrecognizable. That is what makes it more readable - there are characters you meet who develop throughout the book. There are no preconceived notions because you've heard these names on TV. Unless you listened to the authors' podcast or follow small independent baseball, everything should be new and unheard of.

There are a few parts of game recaps and play by play that get boring, but nothing that takes you completely out of the flow. I think the best parts of the book are when players are brought to life through dialogue and interaction, after the authors have chosen them based on spreadsheets and number crunching. I also enjoyed the authors discussing different shifts and batting lineup and bullpen adjustments.

The biggest takeaways are 1) Mathematical statistics applied to a lineup can only predict so much. They are percentages that events might or might not happen. Baseball is played by humans who can perform below expectations or above them. 2) The formula for winning is only useful if you keep the same pieces in place. If players are as good as advertised, they will get signed to higher levels of baseball and need to be replaced.

Good listen. Good story. Would like to see the Stompers in person at their home field sometime.

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Something more than numbers

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I do recommend and have recommended this book to friends and family who have deep interests in baseball. Not only for stat-heads because although this book starts out from that perspective it ends up being about much more than that.

Any additional comments?

This book details what happens when baseball analytics and sabermetrics are applied to real live people not just numbers on a spreadsheet. In order for strategies to work, players have to buy in to them, and even when they do the strategies do not always work. <br/><br/>It provides perspective of what independent baseball players go through to achieve their dreams. The owner, manager, team, league, town, location, the player's family and alternative career plans all have surprising impacts. <br/><br/>I enjoyed this book not only from a strategy and analytical aspect, but especially from a real world angle. It provided insights into a part of baseball I would otherwise be completely ignorant of, and left me with a new found appreciation for independent baseball leagues.

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  • Byron
  • Tallahassee, FL, United States
  • 01-16-17

Great True Story for Fantasy Baseball Addicts

This book is a engaging, inside look at a couple of stat-heads trying to run a low level minor league baseball team. Highly recommended!

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For hardcore baseball fans only

An intriguing and entertaining look at what happens when a couple of stat geeks try to run a low level independent team according to sabremetric theory. For hardcore baseball fans only.

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This generation's Paper Lion

Loved this book. Every baseball fan's fantasy come-to-life; two highly skilled "regular guys"/sabermaticians get the chance of a lifetime to run a baseball team for one summer. Granted, it's an Independent League team - and the lowest level Indy League, at that, but an opportunity to put their baseball smarts to a real life test. What happens when they have to manage real, live human beings makes for a very entertaining and enlightening read. Loved it.

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Introspective analysis of a season

The authors' quest to change a team has surprising relevance to social and business matters.

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I love baseball, but not a fan of this story

What disappointed you about The Only Rule Is It Has to Work?

Based on the introduction of the book I was really looking forward to the story. As someone who loves the game and enjoys other films and books such as Moneyball, I really found this book a let down.<br/><br/>The first couple chapters really pulled me in, but I found the the majority of the book was the struggle of not being able to implement any unique or "fun" changes. I quickly became bored mid-way through the book, especially with a number of tangential chapters written to describe particular player relationships.<br/><br/>For someone looking for a book on a unique way to see the game, and creatively trying to outsmart other teams in fresh ways, I wouldn't recommend spending the time to read through this one.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful